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Can a nursing cat be spayed?

Perhaps your cat accidentally had kittens. Perhaps you wanted to allow her to have one litter, but want to spay her before she has another. Unlike dogs, cats come into heat quite frequently, so it’s natural to want to spay them as soon as possible. Of course, you do want to ensure that mother and kittens are healthy. Spaying too soon can put them at risk. 

Can a nursing cat be spayed?

The short answer is yes. A nursing cat can be spayed. However, the procedure does become a bit more complex when the mother cat is nursing. 

Spaying a Nursing Cat

The issue with spaying a nursing cat is that the mammary glands are enlarged. A traditional spay requires a midline incision, or an incision in the middle of the stomach area. This is difficult to perform when a cat is nursing, because the mammary glands are close by. 

Many vets prefer to do a flank spray on a nursing cat. Instead of a midline incision, the incision is made in the left flank, or side of the cat. The procedure and recovery process are similar for both procedures. 

When to spay a nursing cat?

It is important to spay a nursing cat at the right time. There are a few factors to consider when determining the best time to spay a nursing cat. 

Kitten Wellbeing

The wellbeing of kittens is an important factor when it comes to spaying. When the mother is spayed, she will have to be away from the kittens for at least several hours. The younger the kittens, the more difficult this separation will be for the kittens, physically and emotionally. 

When kittens are born, they are completely dependent on their mother. They can’t walk, see, or hear. By 3-4 weeks of age, weaning begins. Kittens can begin to eat solid food during this time, but it should be supplemented with their mother’s milk for several weeks. 

Health of the Mother

The health of the mother should also be considered. Spaying while your cat is nursing is a bit more risky, but is still considered a safe procedure. Your cat should make a full recovery when spayed during nursing. However, it may take her a few days to return to caring for the kittens fully. 

A Return to Heat

Many owners want to get their cat spayed during nursing to prevent her having another heat cycle. When your cat has a heat cycle, there is a chance she could get pregnant. Spaying allows you to ensure that your cat can no longer get  pregnant, so you don’t have to worry about another litter of kittens. 

A cat can come into heat anywhere between 1-21 weeks after giving birth. Assuming it is her heat season, it’s common for her to come into heat during or after weaning, at 8-10 weeks after birth. 

Cats have heat cycles every 2-3 weeks during their heat season. Some cats will have a cycle all year round, while others will not have heat cycles during the winter. Your cat’s heat cycles are determined by the amount of light during the day as well as the temperature. 

Indoor cats may have heat cycles all year round,  because they are exposed to artificial light and warm temperatures. Cats near the equator will also have year-round cycles, because they don’t have a severe winter season. 

Feral Cats

The question of when to spay becomes more complicated when trapping a nursing feral cat. If you catch her in a trap once, you are unlikely to do so again. She will avoid traps in the future. 

It’s tempting to spay a nursing feral female, but the health of her kittens must be considered. Young kittens can’t survive for a long time away from their mother. Even if the spay is performed and she is returned immediately, she will need some recovery time. 

Would you be able to nurse immediately after a major surgery? Of course not. You’d need hours or days to recover from the procedure before you were able to function well enough to nurse. 

This leaves two options if you trap a nursing feral cat with young kittens. Either you wait, and hope to catch her again, or you prepare to care for the kittens until she can do so again. 

The Best Time to Spay

The best time to spay is when your cat is beginning to wean the kittens. This usually occurs at 3 to 4 weeks. At this time, the kittens can survive without the mother for up to 24 hours. 

The kittens will need supervision and some care from you if they are between 4-6 weeks old. You should be prepared to supplement their food with a bottle if necessary. If they are 6 weeks or older, they should be ok on their own for up to 24 hours, and be able to thrive on cat food. 

Can spayed cats still nurse?

Yes,a  spayed cat can still nurse. A flank spay allows the mother to nurse more comfortably than a standard spay, because the incision is on the side. However, it’s possible for her to nurse after either procedure. 

Can a pregnant cat be spayed?

Perhaps you delayed spaying your cat, and she managed to slip out of the house and find a mate. Perhaps you adopted a shelter cat that was already pregnant. Regardless of the reason why you find yourself in this situation, you are wondering if a pregnant cat can be spayed. 

The short answer is yes, in most circumstances, but it will abort the litter. This has significant consequences for the mother, humans involved, and society. 

Argument for Spaying Pregnant Cats 

Proponents of spaying pregnant cats say that cat overpopulation is a massive problem. They worry that allowing kittens to be born will add to the problem. A female cat can have 3 litters a year. Each of those kittens are able to breed, usually at 6 months of age or before. It’s easy to see how one cat pregnancy can multiply the existing population by a few hundred in a few years. 

Those who believe spaying is the right answer also assert that it saves the lives of existing cats. To them, each kitten that is allowed to be born is taking a home away from a cat that has already been born. However, there’s no evidence to support this. It’s not certain how many people who adopt kittens would adopt an older cat if a kitten wasn’t available. 

Argument Against Spaying During Pregnancy

Those who argue against spaying in pregnancy value life highly, and believe it begins in the womb. They don’t feel that we are in a position to decide which cats life to value, the cat that is already born, or the cat in the womb. 

They also point out that there’s no proof allowing kittens to be born actually results in the death of existing cats. To them, spaying for this reason is causing certain death in the hope of preventing others. They don’t find it sensible. 

Far From A Black and White Issue

There is no clear right or wrong answer when it comes to spaying a pregnant female. There are also a variety of factors to consider. Spaying may be the best decision in some circumstances, but not in others. No matter which side of the debate you fall on, it’s important to realize that everyone wants what’s best for the cat population at large. 

Health of the Mother

One of the things to consider when deciding whether or not to spay a pregnant cat is the health of the mother. Is she healthy enough to have a litter? Will she be able to take care of the kittens? 

If the cat is not in good health, spay may be the most humane option. The kittens and the mother are not guaranteed to survive. There’s also the resources required to care for orphaned kittens or a sick mother to consider. 

Age of the Mother

The age of the mother should also be considered. Cats reach sexual maturity at a young age. However, just like humans, this doesn’t mean that they are physically or psychologically ready to care for a litter. 

Having kittens at a young age puts a strain on the mother, and can affect her health and personality in the long term. Very old cats can also have a difficult time with pregnancy and delivery. 

The general rule is  that cats under 1 year of age are still considered kittens themselves, and are too young to have a litter. Cats over 5 or 6 are considered too old to have kittens. However, the individual health and maturity of the cat should be considered as well. These ages are best used as guidelines, and not hard and fast rules. 

How Far Along the Pregnancy Is

Early and midterm pregnancy spays are considered safe. Some vets say that the mother can be spayed at any stage in pregnancy. Others will not spay a cat in the last two weeks of pregnancy, because of the amount of blood that accumulates in the womb. They believe the risks outweigh the benefits at this stage. 

Ability to Care for Kittens

If you have a pregnant cat, your ability to care for her and her kittens must also be considered. Even if the cat is a good mother, it is quite a responsibility for you as well. You must make sure she has a clean, safe space to raise her kittens. This often requires an extra room just for her and her babies. 

If she can’t care for them properly, you must be prepared to step in. This requires frequent feeding, cleaning, and ensuring that they are toileting. 

What Happens After Weaning?

You’ll also need to consider the ultimate fate of the kittens. Can you find them homes, or care for them yourself? Allowing kittens to be born means taking responsibility for them, until the point you find them suitable homes. 

Litter Size

Litter size is another consideration. The average litter is 4 kittens. However, a cat can have anywhere from 1-12 kittens. The resources required to care for 4 kittens are vastly different than the resources required to care for 3 times that number. This includes space, time, and financial resources. 

A vet can estimate the number of kittens about 3 weeks into the pregnancy. They can’t give an exact number, but can usually get within 1 to 2 kittens of accuracy.